Animal Research: Reductionism and Biological Complexity

| by Dr Ray Greek

Marc H. V. Van Regenmortel has written numerous articles (for examples, see references 1-5) analyzing the perils of relying on reductionism when studying complex living systems. He has a new article titled “Basic research in HIV vaccinology is hampered by reductionist thinking,” which has been published in Frontiers in Immunotherapies and Vaccines. The article is excellent and I recommend it for anyone with a strong background in science and an interest in the topic. An appreciation of the concepts put forth by Van Regenmortel would silence many who advocate for the position that animal models can predict human response to drugs and disease.


1.         Van Regenmortel M. Pitfalls of Reductionism in Immunology. In: van Regenmortel M, Hull D, editors. Promises and Limits of Reductionism in the Biomedical Sciences. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons LTD; 2002. p. 47-66.

2.         Van Regenmortel M. Reductionism and complexity in molecular biology. Scientists now have the tools to unravel biological complexity and overcome the limitations of reductionism. EMBO Rep. 2004 Nov;5(11):1016-20.

3.         Van Regenmortel M. Biological complexity emerges from the ashes of genetic reductionism. Journal of Molecular Recognition. 2004;17(3):145-8.

4.         Van Regenmortel M. Limitations to the structure-based design of HIV-1 vaccine immunogens. J Mol Recognit. 2011 Aug;24(5):741-53.

5.         Van Regenmortel MH, Hull DL. Promises and Limits of Reductionism in the Biomedical Sciences (Catalysts for Fine Chemical Synthesis). West Sussex: Wiley; 2002.